Hiring a professional photographer to capture the bride and groom’s first dance and candid shots of guests “busting a move” on the dance floor is a typical wedding tradition.
Though photos are essential for any formal event, and will surely be looked at for years to come, what if there was a more eye-popping way to capture that same special moment?
Live performance painter Christopher Turner adds saturated colors to a blank canvas to illustrate the elegance of a wedding in a way that charms guests and keeps the memory of their special day alive forever.
Turner grew up in Baton Rouge’s Mid City area with his mother and two brothers. It was here in the Red Stick where he was first exposed to art, at the ripe young age of four or five.
“I was a big Disney fan,” he said. “I used to watch cartoons and sketch Mickey Mouse and Goofy.”
When he presented his sketches to his mom, she thought they had been done by Turner’s older brother. Once convinced that they were in fact young Turner’s sketches, she enrolled him in summer art programs to hone in on his talent.
Being a part of the East Baton Rouge Gifted and Talented Art Program and learning from local artists taught Turner a lot about art. However, these lessons from artists and the program only added on to what Turner said he feels is a God-given gift.
Turner later found out that his biological father also has some drawing talent and both of his grandmothers regularly sketch patterns as seamstresses. So it’s safe to say that art is definitely in his blood.
In his early 20s, Turner was a truck driver. While staying in California and New York for work, Turner visited art galleries where he encountered live performance art for the first time. He said this stuck with him and once returning home, he decided to take his work more seriously.
“I thought, well, this would be a cool marketing tool,” he said.
Turner met with a local promoter and he told him he didn’t care about money; he just wanted the exposure and to spread the concept, which, at the time, was fairly new.
He began to attend R&B concerts, where he would set up and create a painting “live on the spot.” This eventually led to him painting at sporting events, such as the 50-yard line on LSU’s football field before kick-off. His painting career has also taken him to the Men’s Final Four Basketball Championship and the Bayou Classic.
Shortly after the Bayou Classic, Turner’s wife suggested he go into the wedding market, which he said he laughed about at first. Even so, he researched the idea and quickly discovered that only two other male artists were doing this.
“So, we kind of went off into that zone,” he said.
Turner shows up about 30 minutes prior to the wedding reception to set up an easel and a blank canvas. He begins his painting by attempting to catch the perspective of the room or work on the background, so that when the guests arrive, he can add them in.
The bride and groom are usually the focal point in his paintings, with their first dance as the main scene.
Turner books plenty of weddings in the region over the course of the year, but travels to out of state weddings as well.
The happy couple aren’t always the ones to contact him about a commission. Sometimes, the mother-of-the-bride reaches out, wanting to surprise the bride, or even the groom, giving Turner the chance to experience that special moment with them.
Many girls plan their weddings years in advance. Even in childhood, some girls, wanting everything to be perfect, already know what flowers they want, their color scheme and preferred style of dress. Turner said he loves being able to add to that feeling and complete their vision.
“As long as I’m making people happy, it’s cool with me,” he said.
Unlike wedding photos, which are often kept on the coffee table for a few months and then tucked away into a scrapbook, a painting can hang on the wall for decades and act as a topic of conversation.
“It’s a keepsake,” he said.
To keep the public happy, Turner has released four or five originals over the past few years, which are then turned into prints. Last Mardi Gras, he created an independent Zulu poster and teamed up with Ambrosia bakery, who owns the copyright for the Zulu cake.
“Anyone who bought a Zulu cake got a print from me,” he said.
Turner hasn’t forgotten his day job. During the week, he’s an art teacher at McKinley High School, teaching Art 1 and 2, with the first serving as an introductory class and the latter dedicated to preparing portfolios.
Many of the students at McKinley High School know about Turner’s second job as a popular artist, and he uses this platform as a lesson.
“Now I have students that look up to me and I’m able to keep them focused,” he said. “I tell them it’s possible to do something you love and make a career out of it.”
Turner, a part of the local creative community, is able to not only teach his students about art, but also introduce them to the community and its artists. Last year, he and his students designed Zulu balls for the Zulu parade in New Orleans, and he has also taken them on field trips to some of his friends’ art galleries.
He said his favorite part about teaching is having a connection with his students, just like he did with his teachers growing up. As far as art goes, “whether it be performance or studio, it’s one of my first loves," he said.
However, there was an extensive period of time when art wasn’t a big part of his life, but now, he’s lucky enough to work with art every day and he doesn’t plan on letting it go again.